52nd of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E
Tambwe Dominance — City of Rangda, 8th Division Barracks
In the middle of the cross-hairs appeared a shadowy, helmeted head.
Under the gloom that had settled around a knocked-out street light, the figure moved with confidence, as though sure that it was not watched.
Muttering under her breath, Gulab Kajari held as steady as she could.
She kept her scope trained on the peak of the faceless human shape.
Watching from far across the street, behind the gates of the base, she followed the figure as it wandered around the corner, holding a rifle to its chest, turning its head down both directions on the opposing street. It signaled with its arms, waving a pair of allies out from their own cover and onto the street. They crouched behind a bus stop bench. Gulab heard the springing of a handset cord, and a minute of unintelligible whispering.
They were using the radio. Calling in whatever it was they had found.
Then the figures stood from cover and began to retreat back to the corner.
“I’ve got you, you snow weasel!” she whispered to herself.
Once more the cross-hairs expertly followed the figures, swaying from one figure’s head to its torso, keeping just far enough head to lead a shot.
Gulab held her breath again.
She steadied her aim; but the figures disappeared from her sight.
Her scope had gone entirely black.
“We have orders not to shoot, Gulab.”
Charvi Chadgura lifted her hand from Gulab’s scope, and she could see again. However the men in her sights had gone. Somewhere around the street corner toward Ocean Road they had vanished, but they were all still out there. Through the stillness of the night she had heard trucks moving in the distance, and even at times what sounded like a tank or a tractor.
The 8th Division was moving closer, but the false war dragged on.
“I was not going to shoot!” Gulab said, slightly irritated.
“I’m sorry. I trust you, but we can’t take any chances.” Chadgura said.
Then you don’t trust me!, Gulab’s mind screamed at her superior and friend.
She felt half indignant and half foolish. She felt as if she was blowing everything out of proportion, but also slightly offended. Gulab knew her orders. Nevertheless she felt she had to keep a close eye on the enemy.
And it was a fact she had to confront, that she had half a mind to shoot; Chadgura was not entirely wrong in intervening. It still annoyed Gulab.
“They are likely scouting the area for a checkpoint.”
At their side, Sergeant Nikayla Illynichna laid on her belly with the scope of her silenced carbine only a centimeter removed from her eye. She spoke in a monotone that rivaled Chadgura’s, but she could become much more heated if necessary. She was small, her eye level reaching only to Gulab’s chest, and pale as a ghost, with icy-blue Svechthan hair; add the dark of night and Illynichna was practically invisible in their ambush position.
Gulab and Chadgura crouched near her. All of them were hiding in a ditch on the side of the base road that ran through the front gate. Orders from high were to detain the gate guards, who might possess some allegiance to the 8th Division, and to shut off the gate searchlights. Under the cover of darkness they would lay near the gate and watch the road. All along the gate road there were several ambush positions. Gulad and comrades had been given the foremost position and watched the road most closely.
Through the iron gate bars they silently preyed on anyone who appeared.
Any 8th Division troops that barged into the base would be shot by snipers and machine gunners in a hellish crossfire. However, if they walked in with their guns down and unloaded, it was a wonder what anyone would do. They had been told not to shoot unless shot first. Operating under those rules of engagement was quite stressful. It meant anyone had a chance to die before an effective defense could potentially be mounted.
“More vermin incoming.”
Illynichna urged everyone to crouch, and they settled against the ditch.
From around the corner they heard the sound of marching boots and then the drowning-out of that sound by the wheels and exhaust of a truck. A dozen men and an old rompo turned into their street and stopped a mere thirty meters away. Briefly the truck’s headlights shone through the gate, their beams illuminating a few fighting positions by accident. When the truck completed its turn onto the street everything was dark again.
Adjusting her magnification Gulab spied on the arrivals with her scope.
She watched helplessly as 8th Division soldiers approached the truck and began to unload sandbags and set down a foundation for a fighting position near that old bus stop across from the gate. From the back of the truck a heavy machine gun was unhitched and rolled until it was protected behind the sandbags. Bag by bag the wall went up, waist to chest high.
“This is more than just a checkpoint, Chadgura.” Illynichna said.
“I’ll report it to command.” Chadgura said. They had a radio nearby.
Gulab drummed her finger on the side of her gun, near the trigger.
“I’m getting mad. Are the 8th Division our enemies or not?” She asked.
“It doesn’t matter to our rules of engagement.” Chadgura replied.
Illynichna cracked a little grin, lying next to her gun.
“Would you shoot your own people whenever someone declared them your enemies, Kajari?” She casually asked. She did not even turn away from her scope to make eye contact; she simply dropped the bombshell.
“Would you?” Gulab shot back, stammering slightly.
“The Elves and their Colonial Authority all but enslaved my people and destroyed their culture and killed scores of us for hundreds of years. Any countryman of mine siding with forces like them deserves death.”
Gulab’s own thoughts were more elusive and much less forceful. Some part of her that she deemed reasonable did not believe the 8th Division was some force for evil; things were more complicated than that. Just like she believed in the Colonel and followed her orders, she was sure the 8th Division was following their own heroes in this time of confusion. Surely they owed their lives to whoever extracted them from the Nochtish lines.
They thought they were doing right to come here, and that it was the 1st Motor Rifles who were putting the city at risk. Something happened along the way that twisted everyone. Ordinary rifle soldiers were not to blame.
The 8th were not here to steal land like Nocht. Rangda was their home and they believed they could protect it through these dubious actions of theirs.
Or at least that is what she wanted to think of fellow Ayvartans.
And yet– if they did anything that would put Gulab’s precious comrades at risk, like the kids; or the staff; or Charvi; she would definitely kill them.
And if Colonel Nakar gave her a good reason to shoot she would just shoot.
“It doesn’t matter to my rules of engagement.” Gulab finally replied.
Again Illynichna cracked a little grin. “My, my, what a sly answer.”
Gulab focused her attention on the road. It was practically bustling.
When the enemy’s sandbag wall was finally constructed, the truck backed away around the corner and out of sight, and the soldiers remained. They crouched behind their sandbag wall, next to their machine gun, and they faced the gate, opposite Gulab’s own fighting position in the ditch. It was like a scene from decades past. Rival trenches across no-man’s-land. She was sure the 8th Division knew she was there now, or at least suspected it.
It raised the tension. Now she had an enemy in sight who could shoot first.
“Can I at least give them a scare?” Illynichna asked, finger on the trigger.
“No.” Chadgura said sternly.
Illynichna sighed and slumped over her carbine. “Bozhe moi…”
Minutes and hours passed, staring at the enemy in the eye. Gulab called on all of her resolve. She would shoot them if they shot her. She had to.